Filipinas are strong and brave. Throughout history, several important women have broken that pervasive “Maria Clara” mold—that women should be meek and subservient—society has imposed on us. Many of them have fought and helped out in wars against colonialism, and even more have advocate for women’s rights in the Philippines.
Aug. 26 is a notable day because it marks both National Heroes Day and Women’s Equality Day. In the past, we’ve shone the spotlight on underrated Filipino heroines. Today, we’re highlighting the women who have fought and are still fighting for gender equality.
Encarnacion Alzona was the first Filipina historian and the first to earn a doctorate degree. In 1919, she participated in the American government’s pensionado program, which provided equal opportunities for middle- and upper-class Filipinas to study in the US at a timewhen women were deemed inferior to men when it comes to obtaining an education.
After getting her doctorate in history from Columbia University in 1923, Encarnacion served as the chairperson of the Department of History in the University of the Philippines Diliman and used her platform to demand women’s rights to education and suffrage. According to FilipiKnow, she would host tea parties with legislators and talk to them about granting voting equality in the country.
Clemencia Lopez y Castelo
Another Filipina who advocated for women’s suffrage was Clemencia Lopez y Castelo. She was an activist involved in the fight for Philippine Independence during the American colonization. She was the first Filipina to visit and give a speech at the White House, where she expressed the need for Filipinas’ right to vote and liberation from American rule.
In 1905, Clemencia co-founded the Philippine Feminist Association, which was dedicated to the“promotion of social welfare and the encouragement of the participation of women in public affairs.”
This Benedictine nun is a feminist activist with a strong belief in gender equality. So much that she was widely quoted for being pro-RH, which is something you wouldn’t normally hear from a Catholic figure. Sister Mary John told the Global Sisters Report that the Philippines should go back to a time when men and women were treated equally, citing howbabaylans or female spiritual healers were respected during the pre-colonial period. “We have to take back our foremothers’ active role not only in the home, but in society and in commerce,” she said. Despite having stances that go against the Catholic church, Sister Mary John told La Croixthere’s “no contradiction between her faith and her politics.” She also acknowledges the Church’s conservatism and how it can hinder with the advancement of women’s rights.
Several of the women-centric bills and laws we see today are thanks to Sen. Risa Hontiveros. She is a feminist and an LGBTQ+ ally who has advocated for women’s rights and the welfare of other minorities in the country. In the past year, Sen. Hontiveros oversaw the passage of laws like the Expanded Maternity Leave Law and the “Bawal Bastos” Law. Right now, her focus is to pass bills like the SOGIE Equality Bill and the Absolute Divorce Bill during the 18th Congress.